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S. Korea holds emergency meeting on Zika virus threat

All Headlines 11:21 February 02, 2016

SEOUL, Feb. 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea convened an emergency meeting Tuesday to assess and formulate a response to the Zika virus threat after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it an international health hazard.

At the gathering, chaired by the Minister of Health and Welfare Chung Chin-youb in Seoul, the government said there is no need to be overly concerned about the virus at present, but said countermeasures will be set up.

The meeting came after the WHO on Monday unexpectedly issued worldwide warnings that the mosquito-borne virus is a serious health threat, especially to pregnant women and their unborn babies, who may be born with abnormally small heads and improperly developed brains.

"Health authorities must be fully prepared to counter the Zika virus. That includes treating people infected with the virus when they enter the country and formulating a concerted response when temperatures rise and mosquitoes become active," Chung stressed.

The minister vowed not to make the same kind of mistake that allowed the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome last year. The respiratory disease that spread across the country from May to July infected 187 people and caused 38 deaths.

Chung, however, pointed out there is almost no possibility of the Zika virus causing problems in South Korea, at least for now, with no mosquitoes being active during the winter months.

"The focus of Seoul's attention will be to keep careful tabs on people coming in from abroad," the minister said.

Other officials from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) emphasized that since the Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes it cannot spread, at least until temperatures start to rise.

The KCDC said that careful examinations of mosquitoes caught in the country over the past five years have shown that the Zika virus has not entered the country.

While the government already declared the Zika virus a legal infectious disease late last month, it is in the process of including more safeguards for pregnant women and providing more information to better protect people, it said.

The center also said a more detailed response manual will be released to the public so they can be kept abreast of health risks.

South Korea, in addition, plans to release the names of countries that have reported cases of the Zika virus in the past two months and advise pregnant women to put off visiting these regions.

Visitors will, moreover, be given tips to make them less vulnerable to mosquito bites. So far, Brazil, Columbia and Thailand reported Zika cases over the past several weeks.

Zika was first discovered in Africa, but is has spread to parts of Asia and Latin America, including many Caribbean countries. It is related to yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and dengue, with one in five infected showing signs of fever, rashes and joint pain.

The virus, while rarely fatal, can survive in the blood stream for days. Case studies showed that it can be transmitted by bodily fluids in certain instances.


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